0.1. Saanich is a dialect of North Straits, a Central Coast
Salish language1. The Straits languages, North Straits and
Klallam2 form a subgroup within the Central group of the Coast
division. Klallam was spoken along the north shore of the
Olympic Peninsula and in a few isolated settlements across the
Strait of Juan de Fuca notably at Becher Bay. The North Straits
dialects were aboriginally spoken along the southern tip of
Vancouver Island, in the southern Islands of Haro Strait, and at
the area around Bellingham, Washington on the mainland.
Although native speakers of the various North Straits dialects
recognize the similarities, they refer to the dialects as if
they were different languages3. The major North Straits
dialects are, from west to east: Sooke, spoken around Sooke
Basin; Songish (or Songhees), spoken around what is now Victoria;
Saanich, spoken on the Saanich Peninsula north of Victoria and
neighboring islands; and Lummi, spoken around what is now
Bellingham, Washington and neighboring islands. Two other
little recorded eastern dialects were Samish and Semiahmoo.
0.2. Published treatments of the grammars of Straits
languages include Sooke (Efrat, 1969), Klallam (Thompson and
Thompson, 1971), and Songish (Raffo, 1972). The present sketch
is the first major treatment of Saanich, although an outline of
the phonology and morphology is presented with a list of lexical
suffixes by Pidgeon (1970). The major advances this study of
Saanich presents are in the sections on the radical morphological
processes (§2.3), person (§2.4), voice (§2.5), and
post-predicate particles (§2.6.2).
0.3. Saanich is at present spoken by around twenty people.
Most of these speakers live on or around the Saanich reserves on
the Saanich Peninsula of Vancouver Island.
The main informant for this study was Mrs. Elsie Claxton
(x̣ət̕θx̣át̕θəlwət), born in 1911 or 1912 at the East Saanich
Reserve on Saanichton Bay. Mrs. Claxton is reputed to be the
most knowledgeable speaker of " old time Saanich." Her English
is very limited since her parents kept her away from the
white-man's school and provided her with a traditional education.
Mrs. Claxton knows the Cowichan language and understands the
other dialects of North Straits, Lummi, Songish, and Sooke.
Lummi seems to her to be closer to Saanich than the other two.
She is unable to understand Lushootseed or Klallam. She never
used English until her children started going to school so her
five oldest children (all adults) are native speakers of Saanich.
Some of them are still fluent and have created with others at
West Saanich Reserve language lessons for children in an
English-based orthography of their own devising.
All work with Mrs. Claxton was conducted with the help of
Mrs. Vi Williams (ɬíqəlwət) of the Cole Bay Saanich Reserve.
Mrs. Williams is a native speaker of Cowichan and is also
fluent in Saanich and English. Her husband, the chief at Cole
Bay, is a fluent native speaker of Saanich. Mrs. Williams has
spent quite a bit of time herself tape recording elders telling
traditional tales, local history, and genealogical and ancestral
Mrs. Claxton and Mrs. Williams have worked together for a
number of years teaching traditional crafts (spinning, knitting,
beadwork, etc.) to the younger generations at the East
Saanich Culture Centre. When speaking together or to other
local elders they speak only Saanich, though occasionally one
hears an odd phrase or two of English mixed in.
Before answering a question of mine about the meaning or use
of a particular word or phrase, Mrs. Claxton and Mrs. Williams
would often discuss the problem at length in Saanich. Although
I have yet to transcribe most of these discussions, they have
proved of invaluable assistance in the preparation of this
0.4. This study is comprised of three sections. In §1 is a
brief, informal outline of the most significant aspects of the
Saanich sound system. It is incomplete with important questions
remaining, particularly in the area of stress placement. The
primary purpose of §1 is to provide support and background for
the more thorough analyses of §2.
The goal of section 2 has been to provide a complete
description of the distribution, morphophonemics, meaning, and
function of every non-root morpheme in the language. Limitations
on the availability of data have necessarily narrowed the scope
of this goal.
The third section is a sample of connected discourse with a
complete analysis based on the findings presented in §2.
Although no section is headed " syntax" it is everywhere
important. Much of what is included in §2 is ordinarily
included in sections on syntax in other grammatical sketches of
Salish languages. The sections on person (§2.4), voice (§2.5), and
particles (§2.6) are
particularly relavent in this respect. Since Saanich, like all
Salish languages, displays an especially rich polysynthetic
morphology, any accurate discussion of syntax must be informed
by an accurate understanding of the formatives of basic
predicates. This grammar is intended to be a practical, useful
basis for further synchronic and diachronic studies of Saanich
and related dialects.
Notes to §0.
1. The Salish family is one of the largest in America north of
Mexico (only Uto-Aztecan, Nadene, and Algonquian have more languages).
The Salish languages were aboriginally spoken in parts of what are now
British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Montana. The three main subgroups
of the family are Coast, Interior, and Tsamosan. For more on the grouping
and history of the Salish family see Thompson (1979a).
The following abbreviations will be used for North Straits dialects:
Sa Saanich, Sg Songish, So Sooke, Lm Lummi. Other Coast Salish languages
will be abbreviated as follows: Kl Klallam, Sq Squamish, Hl Halkomelem,
Cw Cowichan (a dialect of Hl), Ld Lushootseed, and Ti Tillamook.
2. The preferred spelling of the Klallam people at Lower Elwha and Port
3. It has been suggested that Straits, including Klallam, is all
one language. But, in fact, Klallam and Saanich are not mutually
intelligible. Native speakers of Saanich were unable to understand
clear tape recordings of Klallam discourse though they immediately
recognized it as being "just like Saanich." It seems that they were
reacting to a few familiar words and sounds such as /ŋə́nəʔ/ 'son, daughter'
which contains /ŋ/, a sound that is common to all of Straits but lacking
in all neighboring languages. The degree of mutual intelligibility among
the North Straits dialects has not been determined.